For wildlife filmmakers, the only way to safely explore the startling powers of the African lion has been at the end of a mighty long lens — until now. Man v. Lion follows veteran big cat expert Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, tracking three male lions searching for their next meal. We follow along as they hunt for food and search for a mate in the open African bush. But to truly understand what makes these brothers tick, Boone will go face to face with them. One inch of acrylic separates him from one of the world’s top predators, bringing audiences closer to African lions than ever before. We take an in-depth look into lions’ unique physical attributes, their intricate hierarchy, and their complex hunting strategies. Boone explores each stage of a lion’s kill — the stalk, the pursuit, the jump, strength and the bite — all leading up to the final face-off: Boone in the middle of lions devouring their prey, close enough to feel their breath.
Written by Boone Smith:
When I was first approached with the idea of getting into a transparent acrylic box next to a carcass with wild lions, I will admit I was a bit skeptical. There are a lot of obvious concerns that can pop into your head as to how this could go south really fast. However, after having some important discussions about logistics and realizing I could potentially be inches from lions–safely–and observe some incredible behaviors, it was just too much to pass up.
The night the lions arrived, we (myself and a cameraman) spent over 6 hours in the box; but it seemed like one. The lions started coming by to check out the box only 20 minutes after we had locked ourselves inside. The tensions were pretty high. We didn’t know how they would respond, so we stayed as quiet and motionless as possible to start out. However, it didn’t take long for the lions to realize we were inside. That was both nerve-racking and a relief. We no longer needed to worry about being caught, but now we needed to worry about their reaction–or how our presence might change their behaviors. Luckily, the lions’ curiosity of the box–and us–soon turned to sorting out a hierarchy for feeding and breeding rights. We witnessed lion behaviors from inches away at times: mating, dominance displays, aggression, and feeding. To be so close to smell the dust, the blood–the lions–and feel their roars was truly a unique and incredible experience. Our proximity allowed us to view the dynamics as if we were one of the pride.
The only moment of doubt came when the cable that anchored the carcass hooked onto the angle iron on the bottom of the box. This is when I truly gained an appreciation for the power of these big cats. One male lion was able to drag the box (900 lbs), both our combined weight and gear (200 lbs), and a wildebeest (250 lbs) about 6-7 feet; and make it look effortless. That’s almost 1500 lbs!
Lots of planning and preparation went into this project to make it a success. A little luck didn’t hurt either. Despite the risks, the experience was a rare opportunity to see lions like never before and gain a true appreciation for the king of the beasts.
BIG CAT WEEK continues tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on Nat Geo WILD!